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Our Time: Economy can be another burden on caregivers

When I moved to California in 1980, I came with high expectations for my future.

And why not?

I was marrying — for the second time — and finally found “the man of my dreams.” My three kids were eager for the move. Even my mom thought I would have a brighter future.

In fact, she was encouraging enough to give me half the down payment on a California house with a lovely detached cottage for her.

And so I became, in a sense, mom’s caregiver. A trend that is accelerating today, according to Jane Bryant Quinn, AARP financial correspondent.

While there is no data yet, Quinn believes the economy — specifically the unemployment rate — is having a drastic impact on the way parents and adult children face the future. For the first time in a generation, increasing numbers are forced to face the future together, often a painful interaction.

“If they’re over 55 and lose their job, it’s not easy to get another one,” Quinn said. “People start going through their savings.

“We talk about boomerang kids going home, but what about parents moving in with the kids? And sometimes these adult children, because of financial concerns, are forced to house a frail parent or one they frankly don’t have a good relationship with.

“If the parents aren’t young, you’ve got a problem to start with. Telling them what to do can be a real problem.

“Families need to have regular meetings to discuss what’s working and what isn’t. Maybe they even need to set up a regular payment system.”

Quinn talks about the importance of privacy for elders and notes that “telling them what to do can be a very big problem. You really need to have these family meetings to find out why people are angry.”

Parents moving in with a child in other parts of the country also face a friendless social scene, she notes.

“So much of this is personal relations,” Quinn said. “Maybe they need to see a financial planner or accountant. At the least, they need to talk, talk, talk about these things. And then there are the intra-family problems when one child does the caregiving but doesn’t get paid or recognized when inheritance comes around.”

Sherry Martin understands that.

The Irvine mom lost her job in the process of caring for her mother and then her father, both “sent” to her by an older, retired brother. Now he is in charge of distributing the estate and has not, so far, given any recognition to her hours of work.

“I’m still so broken up about my dad’s death I haven’t thought much about it,” Martin said. “But I am miffed at my brother.”

Often it takes a professional care manager to work out kinks in family relationships, says Kari Buist-Baker, whose Senior Life Management office is in Mission Viejo.

“We help families make better decisions,” she said. “As a case manager, we look at the gamut from legal, medical, pharmaceutical, physical, just every system that’s in place.”

Often elders don’t know where to go, she says. Many are well into their 80s when money runs out or other concerns force them to stop living alone.

“People are simply living longer,” Buist-Baker said. “I have one client who is 103.”

Colleen Goto-Nettel recalls all the difficulties her mother, Chiyo Goto, faced 12 years ago moving from Las Vegas to her Santa Ana, Calif., home. And the problems Goto-Nettel had to deal with as the daughter of an independent woman.

Goto-Nettel is national sales director for a major health care firm. She and her husband, John, have no children.

After her father died, her mother wanted to remain in their Las Vegas home. But the trips back and forth and other caregiving demands were too great for her daughter.

“I insisted she move, but in the beginning, it was difficult — it was hard — having a parent live with you. I learned you have to set up ground rules.

“Mom doesn’t like to cook and I love to. She loves to do gardening and I don’t. I travel more than 50 percent of the time and I have four cats and a dog — well, I’m down to three cats.”

Her mother became head of the household, scheduled and regimented in her divisions of duty.

“Actually, it worked out rather well,” Goto-Nettel said.

“I have one brother in Las Vegas, but he is in the gaming industry and starts work at 8 at night. I didn’t feel Mom would get the best attention from him.”

Financially, Goto-Nettel pays expenses. Her mother uses her Social Security and savings to offset part of the utility bills. “It makes her feel like she is contributing,” says her daughter.

When her mother stopped driving, Goto-Nettel made arrangements for a cousin to take her to the Tustin Senior Center weekly.

“I went through a period of angst, but she was always a homebody. She is perfectly happy to stay at home, and I was the one worried she was not getting out enough. I’m a very social person. I think I made up problems for myself,” Goto-Nettel said.

As Quinn says, “So much of this is personal relationships. No one situation can be the same. You must talk it out.”

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